The Number of Americans Who Think Banning Books Is OK Is Increasing... So, That's Terrifying

If it seems like book-banning sentiment has been on the rise lately, you're not wrong. In fact, researchers of a Harris poll from earlier in July found that the number of Americans who think book bans are acceptable has increased 10 percent in just four years. And even scarier, books are now the media America is apparently most willing to ban. Yikes! If that isn't enough to scare your book-loving heart, I don't know what would be.

The researchers surveyed some 2,000 American adults, and found that although most adults do not support book bans, the numbers of people who do seems to be increasing sharply. In 2011, findings of a similar poll revealed that only 18 percent of American adults believed there are some books that should be banned; four years later, that number has risen to 28 percent, an increase of more than half. In contrast, only 16 percent said there are movies and television programs that should be banned, and only 24 percent said the same about video games. In other words, America just doesn't seem to think highly of books right now, and that is scary.

So, who are these people that are willing to ban books? Well, politically, according to researchers, people willing to ban books are most likely to be Republicans, and least likely to identify as Independents (a pattern that holds true for banning movies, television, and video games as well). And, they seem to be most worried about books containing explicit language and references to violence, with 60 percent and 48 percent, respectively, saying that children should not be able to access such books in a school library. People are also concerned about books containing sex (44 percent) and witchcraft (43 percent). And interestingly, roughly just as many people would like to keep books about vampires out of school libraries as would bar books containing references to drugs and alcohol (37 and 36 percent, respectively).

People also worry about religion. Fully a third of adults in the survey said children should not be able to find the Qur'an in their school library, and more surprisingly 13 percent said the same about the Bible.

So what does all this add up to? Well, the most important takeaway is still the fact that book-banning sentiment really does seem to be increasing. But it seems that the people's objections to books also vary widely. It isn't just things like sex or swearing that causes concern, but also vampires and witches and religion. Giving the large list of boogie men, is any book really safe? I can think of a number of titles on my shelf as a kid that wouldn't be.

But the curious thing to me is that all of these things, from profanity to violence to religion to vampires can all be found in various movies, television shows, and video games. So, what is it about books that makes us so much more willing to ban them? Are books somehow more threatening to people? And, if so, why? My inclination would be to say that it's because books are much, much better at encouraging critical thinking than other media, but the implications of that in light of this new data are pretty depressing, so I'd just as soon not go there if we don't have to.

Whatever the reason is, I still take comfort in the fact that even though 28 percent of Americans think there are some books that should be banned, 30 percent of Americans say they are more likely to read a book if they know it has been banned. And I don't mind saying I am definitely one of them. And for now we still outnumber the book banners, so at least we can celebrate that!

Image: Carissa Rodgers/flickr